reading ireland 2019This book was read for Reading Ireland Month (read about it at 746 Books here) and in fact came from Cathy at 746 books last year: she reviewed it here and then had a competition to win a copy, which I won! So it seemed only appropriate to read and review this book for this year’s month of Irish literature. I started it before I went on holiday and finished it on my return, even though it’s a slim volume, but I picked up the threads just fine.

Janet McNeill – “The Maiden Dinosaur”

(25 May 2018, from Cathy at 746 Books)

50-year-old Sarah Vincent lives in a flat in her old family home, with two old school friends occupying other flats and the daughter of another, a young mum with a flighty husband, in the stable block. One of her contemporaries is a resigned wife, the other the brilliant, fragile and beloved monster, Helen, whose every whim must be attended to. Yes, she has had her tragedies in life, but she’s from a guess not an ask culture and poor Sarah spends a lot of energy guessing what she wants from her, while watching her go through other people’s husbands. Oh, also living in the house are the ghosts of Sarah’s parents, but not of her governess, who still holds on and has to be visited in her nursing home. School pupils of Sarah’s come to special teas or lessons and thoughtlessly trample her smallish life.

Sarah is a Good Woman, a devoted, dowdy teacher, visitor of the afflicted, listening ear to her cousin, and never thought of as having her own life or emotions. She’s beautifully drawn and you do root for the worm to turn. Her life and those of her old friends are skillfully interwoven and described, with the layers you see of the schoolgirl in your old friend, the tiny triumphs and rivalries of ageing, the terrible indignities of trying to buy a decent dress, and the karmic kindnesses returning to you.

There’s something of an experimental form in this quiet but not predictable novel, with shifting locations, all presided over by the Irish landscape and narratives from the point of view of other characters every now and again. One character hears a phone ring three times but it’s ringing in three different places for three different people, something that unfolds until you remember that sentence about Addie hearing the rings as she settles into bed – beautifully done. And is that a glimmer of hope at the end?